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Monday, January 24, 2022

Biden’s choice in the West aims to restore defenses thrown off under Trump

Tighter regulations for the oil and gas industry, clean air and water, and a lack of funding should be top priorities for QC Becker as she becomes EPA Region 8 administrator, environmentalists and tribalists say.

Defenders say Becker, who is a former speaker of the House of Colorado, should help the federal agency restore protections that were cut under former President Donald Trump, but she should also push them to expand further.

In her new role, Becker said she will oversee some 500 employees and help develop and implement national policies to protect the environment and public health. It will also provide millions in federal funding to help clean up contaminated areas, improve infrastructure, and control polluting industries.

Becker’s 8th region covers Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. According to census data, three of these states – Colorado, North Dakota and Utah – have some of the fastest growing populations in the country. And the region encompasses some of the country’s most valuable lands, such as the Arches, Badlands, Glacier, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone National Parks.

“Yes, there are these amazingly beautiful places,” said Stephanie Kodisch, senior director and advisor to the National Park Conservation Association.

But there are also very serious problems, added Kodish.

Becker said she is ready to face these challenges, adding that climate change, environmental justice and degrading infrastructure are also on her list of priorities. Federal officials are reluctant to cause whiplash, but will take more decisive action than the previous administration.

“Progress has not been made in the past four years,” Becker told The Denver Post. “I’m really focused, and EPA (Michael) Regan is focused on making real changes on the ground that improve air, water and everyone’s quality of life.”

Dan Grossman of the Environmental Defense Fund said Becker is well suited for the role, especially with President Joe Biden’s administration moving away from lax rules and regulations set by Trump’s EPA.

“I am very grateful that we are under the new leadership,” said Grossman, who runs the office of the national environmental not-for-profit organization in the Rocky Mountains. “We are already seeing great progress.”

Biden appointed Democrat Becker to the role last month. For a limited time, she stepped down from the legislature last year, and her tenure in the state chamber saw the advancement of aggressive climate change policies and the passage of a 2019 law revising the state’s oil and gas regulations. Democrats and environmentalists welcomed the move, although industry leaders accused lawmakers of acting “in the middle of the night” and warned it could harm the state’s economy.

Regulation of the oil and gas industry

Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming are still home to “booming” air-polluting oil and gas developments, Codish said. Industry, along with gas-powered vehicles, is one of the main sources of ozone pollution.

Pollution levels in the Front Ridge area have skyrocketed this year, and the EPA is likely to downgrade Colorado’s air quality violator from “serious” to “serious.”

Becker must not only work to tighten industry regulations, but also strengthen law enforcement to force violators to reduce their emissions, Kodish said.

Colorado Oil & Gas President and CEO Dan Haley has repeatedly called on regulators to slow down certain rules – such as requiring constant monitoring of emissions – and warned of rising fuel costs and damaging an industry that generates millions of dollars for the Colorado economy.

“Talk of sophisticated technologies and emission reductions should be based on fact, not intimidation tactics or assumptions,” Haley said in a 2019 press release, responding to the State Air Quality Commission’s new regulations.

Hayley and other industry officials did not respond to messages requesting comment on this article.

Tighter industry rules are already being developed under the Biden administration.

The plan, unveiled last month by the EPA, will require oil and gas companies to be more aggressive in detecting and cutting methane emissions. The goal is to reduce these emissions by 74% by 2035 compared to 2005 levels.

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Once the plan is finalized, Grossman said, it will likely remain for individual states to draft plans applying the new rules to companies. And Becker will be able to act as a “validator” to ensure that plans in Region 8 states meet federal requirements.

The new rules should also take into account that communities of color and those with disadvantaged residents more often than not bear the burden of pollution disproportionately, Becker said.

“There’s a lot going on in clean air,” she added.

Protection of waterways from pollution

Likewise, a lot is happening in the clean water space, said Jen Peltz, director of the wild rivers program at environmental nonprofit WildEarth Guardians. And many environmentalists are thinking about which waterways should be protected.

Trump’s EPA has stripped defenses against “ephemeral” and intermittent streams that only flow during storms or at certain times of the year, Peltz said. About 68% of Colorado’s waterways fall into this category.

“If all the water in Colorado is not protected and treated, then these pollutants or developments will cause problems downstream,” Peltz said.

The Colorado Farm Bureau praised the move at the end of 2019. The old rules, passed under President Barack Obama, closed off land use rights for the state’s farmers, Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft said at the time.

Becker, however, said the Trump administration has gone “too far” and the Biden administration is now working to restore many of these lost defenses.

But Peltz said that this is not enough.

“You don’t just need to restore pre-existing protection,” Peltz said. “Think about the challenges we face in the future and suggest the broadest safeguards.”

As the population continues to grow and climate change has dried up many of the country’s rivers and streams, Peltz said, clean water will become increasingly important in the coming years.

Looking ahead, Colorado Farm Bureau executive vice president Chad Wortmann said in a statement that he hopes Becker and the rest of the EPA will protect agriculture from “unnecessary rules” and give farmers a voice in new policy development.

“KC Becker is a tough negotiator, but he knows how to bring stakeholders together to discuss issues,” Wortmann said. “She is knowledgeable about important issues such as natural resources and water, and we look forward to working with her in her new role.”

Indian tribes and funding

While water supplies in the West are shrinking, money allocated to 28 Indian tribes in Region 8 is shrinking, said Rich Janssen Jr., head of the Salish and Kutenai Confederate Tribes’ Department of Natural Resources in northwest Montana.

“It’s frustrating that funding for the tribes is dwindling from year to year,” Janssen said.

Each tribe sets its own standards for water and air quality, as well as other protective measures, and uses EPA money to pay inspectors and enforce those rules, Janssen said. During the Trump administration, he said, funding for the confederate Salish and Cottenay tribes fell by as much as 25%.

Becker said she will lobby for additional money for the tribes, and some of it should already come out of the $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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